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Marco Rubio raises money, meets with Mark Zuckerberg in California

Sen. Marco Rubio is in the midst of a multiday money run through California, raising cash for his reelection campaign and meeting with the wealthy donors the Floridian must cultivate if he hopes to run for president in 2016 or beyond.

On Wednesday, Rubio met with Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg in Menlo Park addition to holding fundraisers and events in the Central Coast and Central Valley.

“It was fantastic. It’s great to see a Republican whose talking about growth and opportunity and an aspirational message and supports the policies that encourage free enterprise,” said Ruben Barrales, president of GROW Elect, a group dedicated to getting Latino Republicans elected to office in California.

Barrales, whose group is viewed as one of the few Republican bright spots in a state where the GOP is in disarray, accompanied Rubio much of Wednesday.

A fundraiser in the Central Valley attracted a few hundred people, quite a change from when Barrales first met Rubio.

“Back when probably no one in California knew him, in 2010 when he was an underdog running for a Senate seat, myself and some colleagues hosted an event for him” in San Diego, Barrales said. “We struggled to get people to attend an event for him, we were maybe able to get six people. Now he’s attracting large crowds and for good reason.”

On Wednesday, Rubio hit a breakfast fundraiser with growers at the Corral de Tierra County Club between Salinas and Monterey, toured the Monterey Peninsula Surgery Center and attended events in Bakersfield in the Central Valley and Menlo Park in the Bay Area.

On Thursday he attended a lunch in San Diego. He was to headline a fundraiser Thursday night at the Beverly Hills Hotel hosted by a number of prominent donors, according to Breitbart News.

Solid support in California’s donor community is vital if Rubio runs for the White House. While the state’s deep blue tilt ensures that it will remain solidly Democratic in the general election, the state is on every potential candidate's itinerary because of the number of wealthy GOP donors who live here. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who ran in 2012 and is mulling another bid, is headed to Orange County in October to appear at the GOP state convention.

In the 2012 campaign, Californians gave $41.3 million to GOP nominee Mitt Romney, plus another $7.3 million to other Republicans who sought the nomination, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Nationally, Rubio has taken heat from some conservatives for his work on overhauling U.S. immigration policy to include a pathway to citizenship for millions who came to the county illegally. That is a topic that Zuckerberg has pressed for recently.

Rubio’s work on immigration reform is less of a sticking point for California Republicans, whose views on immigration have traditionally been more liberal than their counterparts elsewhere. In a March poll conducted for the Los Angeles Times and USC, three out of four Republican voters in California supported the creation of a pathway to legal status.

Barrales said immigration was among a number of topics Rubio discussed at the Central Valley fundraiser.

“He talked about optimism about America and the American dream,” he said. “He did deliver the message about being the child of immigrants and … that it’s something that people have to work for, the hard work is an important part of realizing the American dream.”

seema.mehta@latimes.com

Twitter: @latseema

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